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Pizza maker wants piece of the pie

He worked for Domino's Pizza for 12 years in Ocala, South Florida and California.

Now Joe Hogan, a 1975 graduate of Citrus High School, has returned to his hometown from Sebastopol, Calif., to open a pizza business.

In July, Hogan bought the Inverness Domino's and converted it to the independent Pizza Plus Delivers, which is the name of his Sebastopol business.

"I couldn't own a Domino's franchise here because I had an independent company in California, plus I didn't want to get involved in a pizza franchise again," he said.

When Hogan, 36, moved from South Florida to California several years ago, he had plans to buy four or five Domino's franchises. But he found that venture nearly impossible.

Hogan, who has worked at more than two dozen Domino's locations in the past 12 years, said, "I was unhappy with Domino's. Every time I tried to expand, there was a reason that I couldn't. I didn't move to California just to buy one franchise; I wanted to own several pizza franchises."

Hogan said there were other negative aspects of owning the franchise, which prompted him to become independent in California and then in Inverness.

"There was the (Domino's) 30-minute guarantee that lead to accidents and adverse publicity, which made us all look bad. And then the insurance companies drained us dry because of the adverse publicity," he said.

He also said the franchises became very expensive to buy, as much as $300,000 a store. "I can set up an independent store for $35,000 to $150,000," he said. "That's a big difference."

"The other reasons I wanted to be independent is that I wanted to make better pizzas, be more profitable, pass the savings on to the customer and pay our drivers better," he said.

Hogan said he also wanted to get away from paying what he called exorbitant franchise fees, a franchise royalty of 5.5 percent and an advertising royalty of 4.5 percent, based on weekly sales.

"Even though there were problems with owning the franchise, I still have a lot of respect for Domino's because that is where I started in the business," he said.

Hogan said his business management philosophy is considerably different from that of the franchise, but he said business is better. Since he and his wife, Dorothy, started operating the Inverness store seven weeks ago, they have beefed up sales by 40 percent.

"I am shooting for, by this time next year, an increase in sales of about 180 percent," Hogan said. This means 80-hour work weeks for Hogan.

He said this expected sales increase is not unrealistic, even with the tremendous number of pizza competitors in Citrus County.

"I like competition because it makes me look better. If I don't have competitors, people have no one to judge me against," he said.

Pizza Plus employees use Hogan's homemade dough recipe, real cheese and fresh meats and vegetables to make the pizzas, he said.

Hogan said he sells large pizzas with one topping for $4.99. A large pizza with up to 16 toppings sells for $9.99. He also said the average delivery time is 25 minutes, which is competitive with other local pizza businesses.

Aside from pizza, the only other item the store sells is salads. "If we made other (food) items, it would take away from our service and the quality of our pizza. We don't want that because pizza is our specialty," he said.